Helping Students to Understand the Past and Develop a Sense of Place

Rondi is a student in the MEd in Heritage Studies, Self-Designed program. She has taught at Plymouth Elementary School in Plymouth, NH, for the past 17 years.

1. What sparked your interest in the MEd in Heritage Studies program?

I became interested in the MEd in Heritage Studies program the day I attended my first Heritage Studies conference. The presentations by the graduate students and professors truly inspired me. It was the first time I could see myself doing something other than teaching. By the end of the day I knew that I’d found the perfect master’s degree program.

2. What courses, professors, or aspects of your graduate program made a significant impact on your way of thinking?

There are four specific heritage studies concepts that I’ve made a point to incorporate into my teaching:

  • To develop a community-based curriculum using Plymouth’s authentic history;
  • To use primary sources in instruction;
  • To encourage my students to contribute their own “material culture” which is shown in class museums; and
  • To invite guest speakers, including parents, into the classroom.

Students learn best when they can identify and participate on a personal level with topics of instruction. I have collected and brought my own personal collections to school and allow them to do the same.

3. How did your graduate program enhance your present position as a teacher or prepare you for another field?

The graduate courses I’ve taken at PSU have been excellent. Being able to customize my program of study is one of the features I like about the self-designed program. It’s allowed me to pick classes that will benefit not only my current classroom instruction, but also create a plan for my future employment when I retire from teaching. My internship with Alice Staples and the ethnography course with Millie Rahn have allowed me to enhance my classroom instruction while building a foundation for a future career.

4. What opportunities did this program provide for you that you would not have been able to experience otherwise?

The oral history project I developed for my ethnography course with Millie Rahn has brought everything together for me. My project, “Going to School – The Plymouth District Schools” was designed to interview and record the stories of senior citizens who attended the early one-room schoolhouses. In doing so, I hope to document what it was like to be a student during that era, collect primary documents and memorabilia, and locate the original school sites.

Over the last six months, I have interviewed four senior citizens who attended one-room schoolhouses in Plymouth. It has been very interesting and such fun to hear about their lives and have the opportunity to get to know these people on an individual basis. They are a wealth of knowledge and a precious resource into our past. These interviews have been all the more meaningful to me because of my collective knowledge of Plymouth attained while living here and teaching the children and grandchildren of my project participants. They present the importance of collecting and saving of our family heritage before it’s lost forever.

5. How would you describe your internship? Were you able to integrate the experience in your classroom?

My internship with Alice Staples in the Michael J. Spinelli, Jr. Center for University Archives and Special Collections was a wonderful experience. During our initial interview, Alice suggested I process the Rogers Family Collection for my project. Prior to that time the only thing I knew about the Rogers family was that Rogers Street was named in honor of the first permanent physician in Plymouth.

What I found throughout my research was evidence showing that the Rogers family was represented in many significant eras in the history of our town, country, and world. The Rogers Family collection, which includes correspondence, primary and legal documents, photographs, military records, awards, songbooks, sheet music, radio program schedules, playbills, copies of speeches, books, and magazine and newspaper clippings, represents thirteen generations of the Rogers family, from John Rogers the Martyr of Smithfield to the descendants that settled in Plymouth, NH.

The Rogers were active members of their communities and represented all walks of life including: doctors, lawyers, ministers, teachers, poets, musicians, and merchants. Most were financially successful, respected members of their communities and were elected to positions of leadership in local governments. Throughout the collection, there is evidence of the family’s commitment to the importance of education, civic responsibility, religious freedom, and social activism.

It was exciting to spend hours pouring over the contents of the boxes and discovering who the various members of the Rogers family were, the sequence of their lives, and later how to develop curriculum to present to my third grade social studies students. Nathaniel Peabody Rogers and his connection to the Anti-Slavery Movement is a perfect arena. His home was a documented “safe house” on the Underground Railroad and was located on the site of the present Silver Center for the Arts. His abolitionists writings and speeches can easily be presented in comparison with our studies in Black History. They provide lessons in tolerance, character and citizenship, religious freedom, community service, and the willingness to stand up for something that is right, even if you’re standing alone.

The significance of allowing my students to sing the abolitionist rally song “The Liberty Ball” and be a part of the rededication ceremony of the Nathaniel Peabody Rogers plaque at the Silver Center for the Arts is profound. During the ceremony, each speaker welcomed and acknowledged the importance of my students’ presence, making the children an integral part of the program. They were very proud to be there. By learning about the history of our town and the people involved in its making, my students developed a sense of pride and ownership to that history.

6. Is there anything else you would like to share about your time as a graduate student at PSU?

I would to acknowledge to importance of Stacey Yap as the coordinator of the heritage studies program and personal friend in advancing my studies. Her continued encouragement, e-mails, and helpful suggestions have been paramount to my success.


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